Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal were one of the greatest duos in NBA history. In their 8 years playing together, the duo went to 4 NBA Finals, won three NBA championships, and were perennial All-Stars together. But by the 2003-04 season, the duo's relationship fell apart to an irreparable degree.
Both players did not want to play with each other and made that very clear to the franchise before the end of the season. During the offseason, Shaq forced a trade to the Miami Heat, joining Dwyane Wade to form a solid championship contender in the Eastern Conference.
But their first contest against each other was an affair to remember. Christmas day 2004 was their first encounter. The NBA usually schedules big games on Christmas day as a reward for fans. And the first encounter between Kobe and Shaq was the headliner for the day.
Before the game tipped off, Kobe and Shaq greeted each other, but neither looked each other in the eye. The bad blood between the two had not softened even a little bit, and so they didn't interact too much.
As the game tipped off, both players traded small wins. Shaq blocked a Kobe attempt within the first minute. But Kobe came back with a jumper right in front of Shaq. The game went on with both players putting up numbers that only they could. Shaq put up 24 points and 11 rebounds, whereas Kobe put up a ridiculous 42 points.
Shaq eventually fouled it in the fourth quarter as the game was tied. The Heat took the game to overtime, where they secured the win after Kobe missed a game-winning three at the buzzer.
After the game, Shaq spoke to a reporter about Kobe's shot and the Heat's overall performance. He said that he wasn't worried about Kobe's shot going in because he knew he was going to miss because of how his team's defense played. Shaq regretted getting fouled out as he felt he let the team down.
Shaq then took a shot at Kobe, saying that the Heat players are focused on playing good team basketball rather than scoring a lot of points trying to outdo the rest of the team.
“I knew that it wasn’t going to go in because my team came out they played well. I fouled out, I felt I let them down a little bit but ‘flash’ Eddie Jones told me they had it. That’s why we wanted to come here and win. We’re not trying to score 50 or 60 points trying to outdo anybody, we just want to play good team ball. And that’s what we did today.”
Shaq went on to win his fourth NBA championship with the Miami Heat in 2006. But he served more as the second option on the team behind an up-and-coming Dwyane Wade. As for Kobe, the post-Shaq years were a big struggle for him and the Lakers, with Kobe even demanding a trade. But he eventually got another All-Star teammate in Pau Gasol and went on to win two NBA championships in 2009 and 2010.
When the two players retired, they eventually squashed their beef and became good friends again. But their first encounter as opponents will go down in history as one of the greatest NBA Christmas day games of all time.